It still amazes me how what was commonplace in the not-that-distant past is now viewed as strange. The column-mounted gearshift debuted in the late thirties on General Motors cars. It was originally seen as an advancement, which opened up the center of the front seat to a third passenger, as cars at that time were becoming wider in the front-seat area due to the elimination of running boards and the advent of full-width car bodies. Floor-mounted gearshifts all but disappeared on American cars by the early fifties. By the time of the debut of the Chevrolet Corvette, in 1953, which featured a floorshift as a novelty, things had come full-circle.
The "three on the tree" column-shifter persisted on American cars, (and some European makes; Mercedes Benz amongst them) through the sixties and seventies, mostly on non-sporty sedans/family cars. As the automatic transmission became almost universal on American cars, manual shifting cars of any type almost disappeared. Benchseats likewise disappeared through the seventies and eighties, and shift levers of any type, manual or automatic, again found their way to the floor, as marketing types exploited the sportiness of it all.
I learned to drive a manual trans in my dad's beat-up '49 Chevrolet coupe "go to work at the mills" car, which had the then boringly common three-on-the-tree shifter. My best friend bought a nice '52 Mercedes Benz 220 sedan in '73, which had a (rather bizarre and hard to master) four-speed on the column shifter.
What goes around comes around. BMW's new seven series features a transmission controller that is mounted on the column, and not on the console. Isn't that just a revolutionary idea?